Piper’s Deli

Piper’s Deli (3219 Old Chapel Hill Rd.), a self-described “Durham Institution since 1984,” is a surprisingly good lunch/dinner spot that specializes in deli sandwiches and burgers.

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As the decor (heavy on Duke/UNC paraphernalia and ESPN on flatscreen TVs) and menu suggest, Piper’s isn’t hip or exciting, but what they do have on offer is great. We got a couple of burgers, some soup and salad, and a buffalo chicken sandwich.

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I had heard some good things about their burgers and I wasn’t disappointed. The provolone and bacon helped but the burger itself was super fresh and flavorful. Not as heavenly as Wimpy’s but big and just greasy enough, wrapped in a big poofy Kaiser roll. The buffalo chicken sandwich was pretty amazing too — just spicy enough and not drowning in sauce. Like the burger, it ran about $7. The frozen bag fries were the only disappointment.

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Even the soup of the day (Italian wedding soup) was great. The cake of the day, chocolate cake with cream cheese icing, was passable, but honestly it’s hard to compete with the best lunchtime cake ever. They also bake their own cookies daily, which is another incentive to go back.

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Most of all I was impressed by how fresh everything tasted, and the burgers are so good they soften the blow of OnlyBurger’s untimely end. And they have $1 Miller High Life every day!

Piper’s Deli
Monday-Friday: 11 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 11 am – 3 pm 

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Published in: on December 19, 2008 at 3:46 pm  Comments (6)  

Taco Truck Triumvirate

You know those buses on Hillsborough Rd. that appear late at night? The ones decked out with string lights and neon, surrounded by picnic tables and an idling pickup truck or two? They’re our beloved taco trucks, and although we’ve already done a few sporadic posts about them, hopefully this one will cover many of your 2 am taco options.

Taco Riendo Lopez #1 (across from Kroger)

Taco Riendo Lopez #1 (across from Kroger)

First up is Taco Riendo Lopez,  which I assume is owned by the same people who run Taqueria Lopez. Of the three taco buses I’ve found on Hillsborough, Lopez is my favorite.

Pastor and campechanos tacos from Taco Riendo Lopez

Pastor and campechanos tacos from Taco Riendo Lopez

It may have been the novelty of the campechanos (beef steak and Mexican sausage), but the tacos at Taco Riendo Lopez #1 are the late-night food to beat. They’re lovingly made with double-layered tortillas and come with sauteed onions, lime wedges and radish slices. No surprise there, but overall they’re some of the freshest and most delicious tacos around, late-night or otherwise.

Taco Riendo "Las Delicias"

Tacorriendo "Las Delicias" (across from Rubio, below)

 A little further down the road is Tacorriendo “Las Delicias,” which, despite its name and the fact that it was way busier than Lopez, was a major letdown after Lopez.

Barbacoa taco from Tacorriendo "Las Delicias"

Asada taco from Tacorriendo "Las Delicias"

The asada taco was fatty and strangely flavorless, they only use a single tortilla, and the roasted green onion on the side was baffling. However, you can’t really judge a place based on the asada alone.

Taqueria Rubio

Taqueria Rubio (3148 Hillsborough Rd.)

Taqueria Rubio, on the other hand, is a gem. Besides having the coolest bus by far, the tacos, and especially their homemade salsas, are delicious and definitely on par with their waking-hour counterparts.

Asada, pastor, and pollo tacos from Taqueria Rubio

Asada, pastor, and pollo tacos from Taqueria Rubio

I’m dying for another pollo taco from Rubio after looking at these pictures again. If you’re out late this weekend, take the long way home and pick up some tacos.

Taqueria Rubio (map)
Thursday: 8 pm – 2 am
Friday: 12 am  – 3.30 am
Saturday: 7 pm – 3.30 am
Sunday: 7 pm – 2 am 

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 3:08 pm  Comments (13)  

DOUGHMAN `09

Durham’s home grown biking/running/aquatic event/competitive eating relay, the Doughman, is celebrating its first birthday this weekend, and to celebrate the organizers have put up a new website (link).  In case you missed out this year, you can read all about it in the N&O.  I can attest that it’s definitely one of most fun events of the year (along with the Krispy Kreme Challenge) and next year’s Doughman should be even bigger and better. Even though registration doesn’t open until April, it’s never too early to get your team together! Who wants to take the bacon cheese fries/2 mile run leg?

Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 3:22 pm  Comments Off on DOUGHMAN `09  

Rue Cler Bakery

Not that Rue Cler, Durham’s premier French restaurant, needs any more good press, but for some reason I never remember about their bakery and cafe. That neuron was one of the few to fire this morning, and I thought that there would be no better way to recuperate from an awesome first night of the Troika Music Festival than coffee and beignets at Rue Cler’s bakery.

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Rue Cler, which is right across the corner from the post office on East Chapel Hill St., was one of the first upscale restaurants to venture into downtown Durham, paving the way for many other venues.

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I got a half-dozen beignets and the crepe du jour (egg, roasted peppers, bacon and gruyere). The crepe was exactly as good as it sounds.

Egg, roasted peppers, bacon, and gruyere crepe

Egg, roasted peppers, bacon, and gruyere crepe

It’s hard to describe how good their beignets are. They’re like flaky, chewy pockets of fried heaven. They also make fresh baguettes daily — they come out at about 2 pm, so show up early if you want one.

beignets at Rue Cler

Donut heaven: beignets at Rue Cler

While not as incredible as the Screaming Females show at the Pinhook last night, the bakery at Rue Cler made me feel like a new (and much fatter) man this morning. They stop serving crepes and beignets at 10.30 am, so don’t miss out!

Rue Cler Bakery (map)
Monday: 7.30 am – 4 pm
Tuesday – Friday: 7.30 am – 6 pm
Saturday: 8 am – 6 pm

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 1:03 pm  Comments (7)  

Andrew’s Kountry Kitchen

Andrew’s Kountry Kitchen (2108 Angier Ave.) is a homey east Durham institution that’s been serving hot meals for more than 50 years.

Are you ready for the kountry?

"Are you ready for the kountry?"

According to a great article from the Durham News, the Andrews family owned and operated a grocery store on Angiers back in the in the 1930s and 40s.  This area of Durham (now a “grated community”) was once a bustling center for working class folks.  

Very suicidefood.blogspot.com

Very suicidefood.blogspot.com

One of the Andrews opened the restaurant in the 50s, and in the 70s, his cousin Gary bought it and continued to run the place, from cooking to waiting tables, until he passed away this year. They just reopened a couple of weeks ago, and there were many indications that he was well-loved, from the sign in front of the restaurant and the memorial picture inside to the way the ladies who worked there spoke about him. 

Chicken and dumplings, cabbage, and pinto beans

Chicken and dumplings, cabbage, and pinto beans

Of course I went for the food and was very happy with what I got. As is the case for many soul food places, they had one entree per day (from a rotating menu of fried fish, oxtail, etc.) and when I went it was chicken and dumplings.  Although it wasn’t quite what I expected — the “dumplings” are basically chopped up thick noodles — it hit the spot. The chicken was just peppery enough, and the vinegary cabbage and smoky pinto beans were great too.

Incredible lemon cake

Incredible lemon cake

I had to try the lemon cake, and I’m so glad I did. The halo of delicious that you can see from the photo says it all.  They also have an extensive breakfast menu (more red hots and liver pudding!) and the standard grill items for lunch.  My lunch, plus a sweet tea, came to about $7.

...because it's time to go

"...because it's time to go."

All in all, Andrew’s is a both a great soul food restaurant and a Durham time capsule.  Like the lady running the kitchen said, it’s food just like my grandmama makes it.

Andrew’s Kountry Kitchen (map)
919.596.7905
Open 6 am – 7 pm 

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 9:47 am  Comments (4)  

The Mad Popper

The Mad Popper is a gourmet popcorn store in Homestead Market down by Southpoint Mall (the same shopping center as Shiki) and is one of the best niche boutiques I’ve seen in the Triangle — think Locopops but with popcorn.

The store is the result of a fortuitous meeting at Rockfish (you can check out the back story here) and is a perfect match for Durham. The interior is adorable, the co-owner who helped me couldn’t have been nicer, the popcorn is inventive and delicious, and everything feels very well thought-out, from the decor to the mail-order service.

I tried two sweet varieties (hot apple cider and sweet tea), two salty varieties (white cheddar and Carolina BBQ), and the flavors of the week, carmel coated apple (below) and the chocolate option, candy corn (which was dipped in white chocolate — yum). They were all great, especially the Carolina BBQ. Needless to say, it was all gone in a couple of hours.

Not only do they ship orders, but if you buy a tin, you can refill it for half-price. Their website has all the size and pricing information, but it seems like a great deal.  

My favorite thing about The Mad Popper, besides the awesome popcorn, is that it made me feel like a kid in a candy store.  I can’t wait to go back and try the kettle corn and strawberry flavors. Go check them out!

The Mad Popper (map)
Monday – Thursday: 12 pm – 6 pm
Friday: 12 pm – 7 pm
Saturday: 11 am – 6 pm
Sunday: closed

Published in: on October 22, 2008 at 10:45 am  Comments (3)  

Tokyo Fun!

Toyko Fun (4325 Highway 55), RTP’s latest Japanese restaurant, loves being part of Durham, and it shows.

They’ve got a full sushi menu, as well as noodles, bento boxes, etc., and for starters we got an appetizer called “Negimaki beef” — thinly sliced beef wrapped around green onions and covered with some super-umami sauce.  The beef was delicious but the onions tasted a little wimpy.  I get the feeling it would be a bit fresher during lunch, when it’s probably much more busy.

I’d heard some great things about their sushi, so we went for the Angry Dragon roll (shrimp tempura, cucumber, eel, crunchy spicy tuna and 4 kinds of tobiko on top), which was right up there with Shiki and Sushi Love.

Since Tokyo Fun also has a 2-for-1 sushi deal, we got the unbearably cute Durham roll (crab, cucumber, avocado, tobiko), which was the special roll of the night. That is some honest-to-goodness Durham love. Both of the rolls were beautifully done and delicious.

The sushi was good, but my favorite dish was the Yaki udon noodles, which are pan-fried and served with steamed vegetables. I could have eaten two or three of these plates on my own.

The decor was fun and thoughtfully put together — especially one set of overhead lights that was covered by a bunch of oversized inverted drink umbrellas — and the staff was incredibly nice. Go for the sushi, noodles, and service and stay for the mesmerizing rococo lamp contraption.

Tokyo Fun (919.544.9696)
Sunday – Thursday: 11 am – 3 pm, 5 pm – 9 pm
Friday: 11 am – 3 pm, 5 pm – 10 pm
Saturday: closed for lunch, 5 pm – 10 pm

Published in: on October 14, 2008 at 2:48 pm  Comments (5)  

Los Portales

Los Portales (2405 Holloway St.) may look like a run-down burger stand from the 70s, but make no mistake — it’s a full-fledged taqueria.

This awesome sign is posted right next to the covered park bench situation for those who’d like to eat their take-out as soon as possible.

The drive-up window is on the right, and the walk-up window is up front, next to the menu. After ordering, I tried to look as casual as I could while frantically soaking up all the amazing smells coming out of the kitchen.

This is all the information they have posted — no hours or prices — but it gracefully gets the message across.  I usually hate superfluous quotation marks but for some reason I loved the “menu.” I got two tacos (lengua and pastor), a carne asada gordita, and an horchata for $9.

The pastor was delicious — smokier and slightly sweeter than other pastor I’ve had, and definitely the highlight. I can imagine the pastor burritos (which come highly recommended) being fantastic.  The lengua was better as a template for the red and green salsas (both of which were terrific) than as a taco filling — it didn’t have much flavor compared to other lengua out there.  Sadly I didn’t specify corn tortillas, so I got reheated flour tortillas.  Gringos like corn tortillas too!

The gordita was almost exactly like a torta (refried beans, asada, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and queso) and was really good, although the asada was way fattier than most other asada I’ve had in Durham. Not to mention the fact that it was super messy — good thing I got to take it back home.  Have you guys tried their burritos?

Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 5:23 pm  Comments (5)  

Blue Mountain Catering redux

Today I revisited Blue Mountain Catering on Main St., and the verdict is in: it’s my favorite lunch in Durham. I love Wimpy’s and Toast and la Vaquita, but Blue Mountain Catering really tops them all.

Although their chicken and waffles (obviously the greatest meal ever devised — see previous post here) wasn’t available, and won’t be available until October (I’ll update when they’re serving it again), this second visit confirmed BMC’s awesomeness. CDB got the fried catfish platter with homemade tartar sauce, coleslaw, potato salad, and a baked sweet potato. I got a catfish po-boy with baked beans (meant to get the BBQ pork, but I wasn’t about to complain).

One of the many reasons that BMC does Southern food so well is that they know how to distribute their attention: the amazing tartar sauce was clearly a labor of love, but the baked sweet potato was just that — a baked sweet potato, wrapped in aluminum foil, served with a small dish of brown sugar. Perfect.

The catfish was almost as good as the fish at Leo’s, and the potato salad had chunks of cucumber, which lightened it up considerably.  The baked beans were delicious and unlike any I’ve ever had before — more like the pinto beans you’d get from most soul food restaurants, but slightly smoky and sweet (thanks to the bacon and molasses). Thankfully, I called dibs on the last piece of red velvet cake right before they ran out.

This was one of the best slices of cake I’ve had in a restaurant in a long, long time. Unlike most red velvet cake (which is basically chocolate cake with red food coloring), this was clearly a yellow cake with cream cheese icing.  Lots of people try to emulate the light, moist crumb of box cakes at home, and the people at BMC absolutely nailed it.

Maybe best of all, they offer anything on their menu for pick-up after hours, for individuals and families. After going back today, I’m determined to try everything on the menu (I can only imagine their take on shrimp and grits), and the most expensive item is about $8. Inexplicably, their Tuesday – Friday lunch menu can’t be found anywhere on their website, but I’ll try to post it soon.

Blue Mountain Catering (map)
Tuesday – Friday: 11.45 am – 2.30 pm

Published in: on September 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm  Comments (3)  

Fresh Madeleines at Daisy Cakes

Tanya Catolos, the pastry chef at the Washington Duke Inn, just opened Daisy Cakes, a mobile storefront (technically a 1978 chrome Streamliner) for her cupcakes and other baked goods, located a block up from the Farmer’s Market.

Here’s the Streamliner in context, on the corner of Foster and Geer, right across from the Manbites Dog Theater and the now-defunct King’s Sandwich Shop.

After some truly heinous cupcake experiences in the Triangle, I was really happy with Daisy Cakes. That’s the Pink Lemonade cupcake (lemon with raspberry buttercream frosting). The cupcake itself is more cakey than spongey, and the frosting is creamy and super light but not at all airy like grocery store frosting.

If I ever buy a madeleine mold pan (or mini loaf pans) my masculinity will be officially rescinded, so I’m pretty elated I can now get fresh madeleines in Durham. It doesn’t get much better than warm, lemony discs of pound cake.

One of the cuter items on hand are “Pop’t-Arts,” which is basically flaky shortbread with a layer of strawberry preserves. They’re warmed before serving, but they really open up when you toast them at home too.

They’ve got a couple of tables set up next to the bus, great local coffee (Counter Culture), and tons of adorable in the vein of Locopops. I hear they’re starting to get swarmed, so in case supply doesn’t keep up with demand, you may want to show up earlyish for your Pop’t-Art.

Daisy Cakes (map)
Saturday: 8 am – 1 pm

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 9:27 am  Comments (20)